New Muni Metro trains begin over­night tests

As Muni Metro trains wound down service and headed back to the rail yards around 1 a.m. Friday, crews and engineers headed out from the Muni Metro East Rail Facility in Dogpatch to test Muni’s new light rail vehicles called “LRV4.”

A day before the first weekend shutdown of the Muni Metro, SFBay joined a SFMTA and Siemens crew — the manufacturer of Muni’s new trains — to test the vibration and stability inside and outside of new a train inside the Sunset Tunnel. Four other trains were tested elsewhere in the subway, including one train testing the automatic train control system inside the subway.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has been testing its new trains since the first car arrived Jan. 13. Crews performed testing inside MME, and some additional testing has already been done inside the subway.

SFBay was aboard train No. 2003 that left MME at around 1 a.m., The train operator manually drove through the subway from the MME, passing UCSF and AT&T Park before entering the Ferry Portal into the Embarcadero Station.

The train zipped by Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center, Van Ness stations smoothly and quietly.

Ryan Parkinson, an engineer manager for Siemens, explained the new Muni train was probably the lightest vehicle made by Siemens. He added that he had not worked on project where the weight of a train was such a major focus.

SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley said:

“We’ve challenged them continually whenever they’ve made engineering changes or adjustments … well how much does it weight?”

The train weighs approximately 78,000 pounds, and came in lighter than expected, said Parkinson.

As the train arrived at the entrance of the Sunset Tunnel near Duboce Avenue and Noe Street, Parkinson warned to hold on as the train would be travelling 40 miles per hour inside the Sunset Tunnel.

Testing the new #SFMuni train from the view of the operator. Speed demon in the Sunset Tunnel. #latergram

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Testing was performed by a third-party consulting company called Wilson Ihrig, which has an office in Emeryville. The company specializes in measuring noise and vibration. The company has provided its consulting services on many BART extension projects, including the extension to the San Francisco International Airport, according to the Wilson Ihrig website.

Parkinson said the noise and vibration work could have been done in-house, but said he wanted an objective third party to do the testing. He added the company was one of the best consulting companies in measuring noise and vibration.

Floor sensors were inside the train to measure the noise and vibrations while Mike Amato, senior consultant and lab manager for Wilson Ihrig, wrote measurements while wearing headphones and looking at his laptop. Measurements were also being taken on vibration impacts to the “bogie” or the wheelbase of the train.

The train went in and out of the Sunset Tunnel at more than a half a dozen times at 40 miles per hour during the testing period.

As two Muni operators sat in the front and back of the train cab operating in and out of the Sunset Tunnel, Emmanuel Enriquez, who is leading the testing for the SFMTA, said the Siemens and Breda vehicles have similar operating controls, but the performance of the Siemens vehicle is quite different:

“It’s kind of like comparing a 2017 to a 1995 car.”

Enriquez said the visibility for operators inside the cab was much better thanks in part to some design changes, including having the operator sit in the center of the cab and a lower dashboard.

Obstacles

Testing Friday morning went off without a hitch, but that has not been the case for some of the late-night and early morning testing during the last few months.

Both the Sunset Tunnel and Duboce Portal are notorious for private vehicles entering the Muni tunnels despite red neon “Do Not Enter” signs on all day and night.

During one night of testing in February, a car crashed into a pole near the portal entry at Church Street and Duboce Avenue, said Enriquez.

Instead of continuing testing, Enriquez said crews had to call a tow and focus their efforts on removing the vehicle:

“The problem is sometimes that will shorten up our window so we have to now see and prioritize what tests we need to do to get done that night if we were able to still test.”

In that incident, the driver left their vehicle. Enriquez said the driver was never found.

Some other snags that crews fixed during recent testing was the reposition of radio cables inside the Embarcadero Station, said Haley.

One problem that occurred earlier was with the train losing connection with the wayside equipment, which automatically turns on the emergency system on the train, said Parkinson.

He said that bug is fixed and will not be a problem when the trains go into service.

Looking ahead

After the SFMTA completes the tests, the transit agency will submit the tests to the California Public Utilities Commission to receive a safety certification.

One of the crucial tests that crews will conduct between now and Aug. 20 is to see how the new trains will communicate with the automatic train control system.

The system is what makes the trains run automatically inside the subway, said Haley:

“The train control system is the most critical one because that’s the intelligence of the whole system.”

Parkinson said while crews worked out the bugs on the new trains at MME, crews still need to test the trains in a controlled environment and put them into different scenarios:

“You make sure in all scenarios, the vehicle safely stops at the platform, safely offloads passengers, safely continues, and when something goes wrong, it safely stops.”

Crews will make sure the new trains are able to communicate with the automatic train control system, described by Parkinson as a “handshake” when entering any of the subway portals.

Muni’s current Breda trains are not going away anytime soon. There will be a mix of Breda and Siemens trains in service for a number of years, said Haley. Crews will test how well both types of trains operate inside the subway with the automatic train control system.

Muni riders can expect to see the new trains in service by the end of the year if all goes well with the testing.